Otto Octavius used Big Science to switch his mind into Peter Parker’s body. In the process, he’s gained Peter’s sense of responsibility for others, and has become the Superior Spider-Man! Unfortunately, for all of his new motives, he remains a high-functioning sociopath and has tarnished Spidey’s rep with acts of brutal violence. This is of concern to Peter, who remains within Otto’s brain as a subconscious presence, and to the Avengers, who are certain something is wrong with their comrade.
All of this came to head last issue, when Otto beat up the doctor-turned-vigilante Cardiac, though Otto failed to prevent Cardiac’s escape with one of Otto’s old inventions (Cardiac remains unaware that Otto tagged him with a spider-tracer during their fight). The Avengers called Spider-Man in for a complete physical, which an outraged Otto refused to undergo. When Captain America remonstrated with him, Otto became violent, and now he’s about to throw down with the thoroughly-fed-up Avengers.
|Executive Producer:||Alan Fine|
|Chief Creative Officer:||Joe Quesada|
|Editor In Chief:||Axel Alonso|
|Assistant Editor:||Ellie Pyle|
Otto is able to hold his own at first, which is surprising, given that he’s facing not only Thor, Wolverine, and Captain America, but Spider-Woman and the Black Widow for good measure. As the Widow observes, his spider-sense helps quite a bit. Still, Otto has an Achilles’ heel: the ghost of Peter Parker, which is afraid his body is about to sustain permanent damage. Just like last issue, Peter’s subconscious monologuing is sufficient to distract the web-slinger, permitting Spider-Woman to stun Otto with a venom blast. Sadly, this blast is coloured orange and makes a ‘vdam’ sound effect. As my constant readers know from my exhaustive reviews of Spider-Woman, the blasts should be green and make the ‘zdak’ sound. Oh well. Captain America delivers a superfluous, but no doubt satisfying, coup de grace by smashing Spider-Man in the face with his shield (‘sflang’) and down Otto goes.
Elsewhere, Cardiac tends to his patients at his HEART clinic, including the little girl who needed the neuralytic analyzer for her treatment. Unfortunately for Cardiac, he doesn't understand the subtleties of its operation, which may mean the little girl, whom we readers will find out later is named Amy Chen, is beyond his power to treat.
Also elsewhere, Carlie Cooper has a phone conversation with a mysterious figure whose face is shrouded in darkness, John-Romita-drawing-the-Green-Goblin’s-unknown-alter-ego-style. Carlie is trying to convince her interlocutor that someone is impersonating Spider-Man, and she needs help proving her case. The mystery man doesn’t want to help, as it’s Carlie’s fault that he’s on a “leave of absence”, as per the scare quotes. Carlie insists that the mystery man will help anyway, as he’s a good person and he owes Carlie for not turning him in. The mystery man - who’s African-American, apparently, as per an extreme close-up - agrees that he’ll assist.
Who could this be? I’m not sure, as I collected ASM only spottily through Brand New Day. But I'm sure we’ll find out soon.
Moving on! Otto recovers consciousness, to discover that the Avengers have proved, conclusively, that he’s not a Skrull in disguise, nor a victim of the Space Phantom or any of Marvel’s myriad mind-controllers. Accordingly, Spider-Man is free to leave, but he’s to consider himself on probation with the Avengers. Otto is about to depart, but Natasha stops him. She explains that she understands what the situation is: after Spider-Man let Sable die during ‘Ends of the Earth’, he has “red in [his] ledger” and is trying to erase it with violent tactics. Didn’t he try to kill the Lizard? (Yes, he did, in ASM #691.) Everything since then is consistent with that shift in behaviour, or so it seems to Natasha.
It’s an ingenious explanation, and it fits the evidence, and so Otto is perfectly happy to accept it. He’s so distracted by this conversation - and, if I'm reading the art correctly, by the plunging zipper on Natasha’s catsuit - that he fails to notice that Peter has surreptitiously gathered up a pen and is doodling a picture on some nearby notepaper. Last issue, Peter discovered he can influence Otto’s movements during moments of distraction, to the point where he can even write notes without Otto noticing. Unfortunately, lacking access to the language centre of his brain, he can't use words. That’s okay: he can write a cartoon of an octopus pointing at Spider-Man’s mask. Unfortunately, Natasha’s reaction to this is “for someone called Spider-Man, he sure draws a lousy spider”.
Unaware of Peter’s failed attempt to communicate with the outside world, Otto web-swings into the night, bearing with him a copy of the brainscan the Avengers prepared. He’s noticed what none of the other Avengers did - a deviation in his encephalogram whose implications bother Otto a good deal. “It’s just dumb luck that Iron Man is busy gallivanting through space, and Giant-man’s off somewhere playing with his toys.” This observation prompts me to question how the other Avengers were able to undertake such a thorough brainscan without their resident scientists. Neither Thor nor Wolverine seem like deft hands with hi-tech equipment. I guess the Black Widow handled matters? Anyway, at Horizon Labs, Otto rudely barges past his co-workers (and his boss) to study the data. Unfortunately for him, it’s inconclusive. He’ll need a better brain scanner... and he knows where to find one.
At the HEART Clinic, Cardiac has found the Spider-Tracer even as Otto has breached the perimeter. As Otto wants the neuralytic scanner, and Cardiac refuses to give it up, a battle is inevitable. “Very well then --- the DIE is CAST!” yells Otto. He needs a better battle cry, I think.
The Spidey-Cardiac battle stops almost as soon as it starts, when Otto is confronted by the sight of his neuralytic scanner perched atop the head of a little girl. When Otto recovers himself, he tries to take it, but Cardiac begs him not to, as it’s poetic justice to use Otto Octavius’ technology to heal one of Otto’s own victims. This revelation again forces Spider-Man to pause, as Cardiac explains that little Amy Chen was orphaned in a car accident that also damaged her brain. That damage was then exacerbated by the intense heat Doc Ock inflicted upon the Earth in ASM #682, during the ‘Ends of the Earth’ event.
Otto has a sudden change of heart and promises to work the scanner himself to cure Amy’s condition. Tucked away in his brain, Peter is wondering if he should stop Otto, who may not be capable of this feat, and that irresolution makes Otto’s hand tremble. “For the sake of this girl,” says Otto, “this will pass!” And it does.
Cue the happy ending! Amy Chen is saved. Otto and Cardiac put their differences behind them, as Otto now sees they’re much alike, both outlaw vigilantes who use their powers for good. Otto gets to take the neuralytic scanner. And Peter? He’s going to receive a “Parker-ectomy”.
Wait, what’s that? Otto has worked out that Peter is hiding inside their common brain; in fact, he addressed him right before Amy’s procedure. “All of Peter’s memories I kept in this head, taking on a life of their own. Time to put a stop to that.”
As a two-part arc, I expected that this issue would be heavy on fighting, and last issue would be heavy on character moments. “Troubled Mind” defied that expectation: there’s relatively little combat on display here. The Spidey-Avengers fight, built up since Superior Spider-Man #6, is over in two pages. This outcome lacks the dramatic weight all of the foreshadowing led me to anticipate, but I will admit that the short battle gives the Avengers their just due as Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. In a similar fashion, the punch-up with Cardiac takes only a couple of pages, and ends without a dramatic blow being struck on either side. Anyone tempted to complain about this is referred back to last issue, where we got plenty of Cardiac vs. Spidey action.
What we have in this issue is character moments. The Black Widow reaches out to Spider-Man in what, to the uninitiated, may seem an uncharacteristic way, but it builds nicely upon the history these two established back in ‘Ends of the Earth’. Sure, Natasha’s read on the situation is wildly incorrect, but it’s an interesting perspective, and shows that Slott is able to treat Natasha as an actual character, with her own viewpoint, rather than moving scenery; a role that, thanks to that unfortunately low-flying zipper on her catsuit, is an easy role for her to slip into. We also get some face time with Cardiac and his staff (that is, the people who work for him, not his weapon), which explains why they do what they do; although, given the objections I stated in my last review, I’d like to hear more about this matter. I'm still unconvinced that Cardiac’s team does more good than harm, which is just how I feel about the Superior Spider-Man’s antics. Perhaps, later in the title, we could see the consequences of Cardiac’s actions explored more thoroughly, as a foreshadowing and commentary on Otto’s own activities.
Of course, since it’s his book, Otto gets a character moment too, with his putting aside his own selfish concerns with the neuralytic analyzer and using it to heal Amy Chen of her injuries. The book treats this as a big achievement for him, but let’s not forget that what Otto does here - carrying out what, for him, is a simple medical procedure, rather than simply grabbing the helmet and punching Cardiac in the face - means that Otto has risen to the level of basic human decency, rather than heroism. Still, for a high-functioning sociopath, I guess this is a real accomplishment. Still, let’s bear in mind that the climax of the arc is whether Otto will choose to expend a slight effort to save a child. The fact that this doesn't seem a difficult decision - neither morally, for the readers, nor costly, for Otto - blunts the dramatic impact of the entire arc.
I don’t have much to say about Carlie, other than I hope we get we get to spend more time with her in future issues. I like Carlie, just as I like the supporting cast, especially the Horizon Gang. One of the few problems with Slott’s run on ASM was the fact that constant cameos by the various Avengers, the Future Foundation, and so forth robbed the supporting cast of face time with readers. So far it seems that SSM is travelling that same path.
High points of the issue include seeing recent events through the Black Widow’s eyes, and the recognition that Cardiac and the Superior Spider-Man are very much alike. Another high point, for that matter, is the decision to bring Cardiac back from the character limbo he’s been inhabiting for about twenty years of real time. Low points include the odd dramatic structure of the issue and the arc and the limp climax. Let’s call it an even three webs.
Here’s your stinger: a bit of the banter between Spidey and Cardiac as they battle inside the HEART clinic.
OTTO: “This is the rematch - and Spider-Man always wins the rematch! Trust me. I’m an authority on the subject.”
CARDIAC: “You maniac! Can’t you see where we are? This is a hospital!”
OTTO: “Said the man firing the energy staff.”
Otto’s getting better with the quips. Good for him!